Developing an electronic information resources collection development policy

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  • An electronicinformation

    resources policy


    Developing an electronicinformation resourcescollection development

    policyGary W. White and Gregory A. Crawford

    Heindel Library, Penn State Harrisburg, Middletown, Pennsylvania,USA

    IntroductionElectronic resources are now recognized as being of great importance to evensmall academic and public libraries and they are consuming an ever increasingshare of library budgets, often to the detriment of monographic acquisitions.CD-ROMs, local area networks, computer equipment, online resources, theInternet, and other remote databases all provide libraries with vast resourcesfor their user populations. In addition to the benefits of additional access, theinformation explosion has also produced a considerable amount of confusion onthe part of library users and librarians.

    Librarians today are grappling with the issues of which electronic resourcesto acquire and in what format. What was once an isolated database (forinstance, a DIALOG file) can now be found or accessed in a multitude oflocations or formats from a variety of vendors. An additional wrinkle is how tobalance new electronic acquisitions with traditional print formats or evenslightly older electronic resources such as CD-ROMs (with which users are morefamiliar).

    Justifying library purchase decisions has also become increasinglyimportant. When books are purchased, they often appear on new book shelvesfor browsing by library customers and will then be available in the stacks foruse. Electronic resources, in contrast, lack the physical presence of books andjournals. When library users and budget authorities ask to see what has beenpurchased with library funds, CD-ROMs or floppy disks may be shown, buthow can one show what has been purchased from an online vendor or anInternet Web site? These issues can be addressed with the careful developmentof an electronic information resources collection development policy.

    Literature reviewThe use of collection development statements has long been a standard practicein all types of libraries. What are collection development policies? TheAmerican Library Association states that they are documents which define thescope of a librarys existing collections, plan for the continuing development of

    Asian Libraries, Vol. 6 No. 1/2, 1997,pp. 51-56. MCB University Press,


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    resources, identify collection strengths, and outline the relationship betweenselection philosophy and the institutions goals, general selection criteria, andintellectual freedom (American Library Association, 1987). They serve manyfunctions beyond being merely a tool for selection of materials. In addition todescribing current collections, they establish priorities, assist with budgeting,serve as a communication channel within a library and between the library andoutside constituents, support co-operative collection development, protectintellectual freedom and prevent censorship, and assist in overall collectionmanagement activities, including the handling of gifts, deselection of materials,and serials cancellations (Johnson, 1994). They also minimize personal bias inthe selection of materials, identify gaps in collection developmentresponsibilities, and serve as information resources for new collectiondevelopment librarians (Frank et al., 1993).

    Are collection development policies still relevant in todays technologicallyoriented libraries? Hazen (1995) writes that traditional collection developmentpolicies are static and do not meet the needs of todays librarians. He suggeststhe use of flexible descriptions or guides within a field of study which includeall formats of information and local and remote resources. Johnson (1994) statesthat libraries without collection development policies are like businesseswithout business plans. The Collection Development Policy Committee of theCollection Development and Evaluation Section of the American LibraryAssociation states that traditional collection development policies are based onthe ownership of materials. Because of changing information technologies,libraries will be less and less able to acquire and store materials and will relymore and more on access to information through commercial vendors andcooperative programs. As the definition of collections continues to evolve,these issues need to be addressed in meaningful policy statements (Frank et al.,1993). Otero-Boisvert (1993) writes that budgetary restraints and the impact ofelectronic technologies are the two most important issues when discussing thefuture of libraries. It is apparent that some kind of policy statement is stillrelevant and necessary though there is some disagreement as to whether thereshould be one comprehensive statement, or separate statements for differentformats (LaGuardia and Bentley, 1992). Demas (1994) outlines CornellUniversitys Mann Librarys comprehensive statement, which uses the termmainstreaming to describe the integration of new forms of informationtransfer, as they emerge, into the existing collections, services, policies, andoperation of the library. Others, such as Hazen (1995), prefer separate policystatements.

    What is the process for developing an electronic information resourcescollection development policy? Each institution, including its community andother constituents, is unique; therefore, their policy statements will also beunique. It is difficult to state concisely the steps of this process. One method isto use a manual, such as the one written by Cassell and Futas (1991a). Anotheruseful exercise is to analyse the collection development statements of similarinstitutions, such as those published by Futas (1995). Cassell and Futas (1991b)

  • An electronicinformation

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    outline the general process: begin by preplanning; involve others in theorganization; meet, organize, and form subcommittees for specific tasks; leadthe group; gather information on the library and the community it serves; andfinally use this information to develop the policy statement. Demas (1994)describes the formation of an Electronic Resources Council to guide theselection of electronic information resources and to co-ordinate the process forthe different constituents involved. Selecting electronic information resources isinherently more complex than traditional print resources since it involvesanalysing many other issues such as equipment, space, trade-offs with otherresources, technical support, and vendor support.

    The Penn State Harrisburg experienceAt Penn State Harrisburg (PSH) we began to address these issues several yearsago when we started acquiring CD-ROM products. Librarians at PSH quicklyexperienced many of the problems involved with electronic resources: cost ofthe products, additional computer and printing charges, resistance to change byuser groups, and trade-offs with the print collections, just to name a few. Toaddress these problems and concerns and to make further recommendationsconcerning electronic resources, a committee which we called the ElectronicServices Task Force (ESTF) was formed in 1993.

    To guide us in our future collection development, the ESTF first decided thatwe needed to formulate a Collection Development Statement for ElectronicInformation Resources. We could then use this policy to guide us in ourdecisions, to address faculty/student needs and concerns, and to help us planfor future changes. The principal goal of this policy statement was to setparameters which would direct our decisions on whether we should: choose theelectronic format only; choose both an electronic version and a print equivalent;or choose a print format only.

    Developing the policyMembers of the ESTF met numerous times to discuss the handling of severaldifficult issues with the development of the policy. The first issue, and one thatis familiar to anyone working on a collection development policy, is the scope ofthe policy. Some ESTF members felt that we should include languageidentifying the types of electronic information we wanted to include, such asonline services, CD-ROMs, etc. Other members felt that being broader in ourapproach would be wiser. After much discussion, the ESTF felt that it wasdesirable not to mention specific types of information resources in the policy,but rather to keep the language broad. At the time, our thinking was that thisstrategy would allow us more flexibility in our selection processes, but it hasalso allowed us to retain this flexibility as we move into the ever increasing useof remote information resources, including full-text sources.

    A similar issue was the desire of some members to write the policy toincorporate wording which included access to information resources, ratherthan only the physical acquisition of a product. Though these discussions

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    occurred before the tremendous impact of the Internet and the World WideWeb, the ESTF did recognize the future potential for remote access and decidedto word the policy in this inclusive manner.

    A third area of concern was whether to discuss budgetary issues in thepolicy. While there was general agreement that we did not want strictly todefine how resources are budgeted or paid for, some members felt thatincluding the budget issue would serve to ensure funding. At the time we hadone electronic resources budget for all non-print resources (CD-ROMs, onlineservices). The ESTF came to the consensus that it would be better not to includelanguage discussing the budget, as members felt this would only serve to limitour decision-making and selection processes. In fact, this eventually led tostatements in the policy which encourage greater access to electronic resources.Since that time, we have not changed our budget structure; however, theelectronic resources budget is used primarily for expensive subscriptions whileindividual selectors routinely use what was once traditional monographicbudgets to acquire electronic information resources in their respective fields.

    A final important issue we discussed involved the decision-making processwe used in our library. Until the statement was written, acquisitions ofelectronic information resources were made only with the approval of thelibrary director. Members of the ESTF, not surprisingly, did not want to have torely on gaining this type of approval for every selection decision. Therefore, theESTF decided to add language to the policy that allowed selectors to evaluatethese resources in a manner similar to that used for print resources. Thisdecision has permitted greater autonomy and faster decision making for thelibrary selectors.

    The overall purpose of this policy is not the same as traditional collectiondevelopment policies, which typically focus on how well a given item fits into orsupports a collection. This policy, in contrast, focuses more on format and otherconsiderations, such as cost. Thus, it should be used in conjunction with a moretraditional collection development policy which guides subject-relatedselection, and not used as a replacement. The policy (see Appendix) is brokendown into two sections: general guidelines and specific guidelines.

    The general guidelines assist the selectors in deciding which format,electronic or print, to purchase. They also direct the selectors to consider otherfeatures which vary from traditional monographic selection, such as longevityof the medium, equipment needed to use the resource, and the availability oftechnical support.

    The specific guidelines provide additional direction to the selectors. Forexample, we prefer that information be purchased in only one format to reduceduplication and save money. An important component of this policy is itemnumber two. The stated preference for choosing equivalent electronic resourcesover the comparable print version not only better prepares us for the future, butalso serves as a justification to those who argue that the library has too manyelectronic resources versus print resources. The third guideline serves toprevent us from adopting technologies that may have a short life cycle while the

  • An electronicinformation

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    fourth encourages us not to discriminate against an information source solelyon the basis of its format.

    ConclusionsHaving an electronic information resources collection development policy hasproven to have several distinct benefits. First, as with any traditional collectiondevelopment policy, it serves as a guide when acquiring information resourcesto support the mission and programmes of the institution. Second, it directs usin using our very limited library resources for acquisitions. Third, it providesguidance to assist librarians who are trying to choose specific resources, or toselect one format over another. Finally, it can (and has been) used to justify theselection of certain resources. As the proportion of our total budget thatsupports electronic resources continually increases, this policy proves to bemore and more relevant and necessary.

    Our goal at the Heindel Library of PSH is to provide high quality libraryservices and collections within the severe constraints of our limited budget. Todo this we have increasingly relied on electronic resources. Our CollectionDevelopment Statement for Electronic Information Resources has beenextremely useful in achieving this goal.

    ReferencesAmerican Library Association (1987), Guide for Writing a Bibliographers Manual, American

    Library Association, Chicago, IL, pp. 2-3.Cassell, K.A. and Futas, E. (1991a), Developing Publ ic Library Collections, Pol icies, and

    Procedures, Neal-Schuman Publishers, New York, NY.Cassell, K.A. and Futas, E. (1991b), Collection development policies, Collection Building, Vol. 11

    No. 2, pp. 26-9.Demas, S. (1994), Collection development for the electronic library: a conceptual and

    organizational model, Library Hi Tech, Vol. 12 No. 3, pp. 71-80.Frank, D.G. et al. (1993), The relevance of collection development policies: definition, necessity,

    and applications, RQ, Vol. 33 No. 1, pp. 65-74.Futas, E. (1995), Collection Development Policies and Procedures, 3rd ed., Oryx Press, Phoenix,

    AZ.Hazen, D.C. (1995), Collection development policies in the information age, College & Research

    Libraries, Vol. 56 No. 1, pp. 29-31.Johnson, P. (1994), Collections development policies: a cunning plan, Technicalities, Vol. 14 No. 6,

    pp. 3-6.LaGuardia, C. and Bentley, S. (1992), Electronic databases: will old collection development

    policies still work?, Online, Vol. 16 No. 4, pp. 60-3.Otero-Boisvert, M. (1993), The role of the collection development librarian in the 90s and

    beyond, Journal of Library Administration, Vol. 18 Nos 3/4, pp. 159-70.

    Appendix: Collection Development Statement for Electronic InformationResourcesAs an increasing amount of material is available either in electronic form alone, or in bothelectronic and print forms, it has become necessary to provide guidance on which format of an

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    item is the preferred forma...


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